Matt Ryan Must Be Falcons' Best Player to Beat Buccaneers

The Atlanta Falcons will need to deploy a pass-first offense to upset Tampa Bay in Week 2.

In the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Atlanta Falcons offense had 19 runs versus 17 dropbacks for passes. 

Running that much is unusual in the modern NFL, but it worked for the Falcons from a yardage standpoint. They racked up more than 100 rushing yards in the first two quarters.

But that same game plan will likely not work in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just as it didn't in the second half against the Eagles. Despite rushing for over 100 yards in the first half, Atlanta finished with just 124 yards rushing on the day.

It doesn't get any easier this week.

READ MORE: How to Watch Falcons at Buccaneers

Last year, the Buccaneers were first in fewest rushing yards allowed and rushing yards yielded per carry. They also gave up the fewest touchdowns on the ground in the league. Nothing from Week 1 suggests there are any cracks forming in that run defense.

The Dallas Cowboys rushed for only 60 yards against the vaunted Tampa Bay front in the season opener. The Cowboys averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, which was under what Tampa Bay allowed per rush last year (3.6 to lead the NFL).

Falcons running backs Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson each ran for at least 49 yards against Philadelphia. Patterson looked as good as he ever has in the backfield, averaging 7.7 yards per carry on seven attempts. 

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But with Vita Vea clogging the middle of the Buccaneers defensive line, Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston on Vea's two sides, and quick middle linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David, there doesn't project to be much room for Patterson and Davis this Sunday.

The game will be won and lost for the Falcons with Matt Ryan's arm. The Cowboys had success against the Buccaneers secondary on wide receiver screens. Those types of throws will be extremely important for the Falcons since their offense line won't be able to pass block for long against the elite Tampa Bay rush.

It helped the Cowboys that Tampa Bay lost cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting in the middle of the second quarter in Week 1. The Buccaneers placed Murphy-Bunting, who had three interceptions in the last year's postseason, on IR this week, so the Falcons will have the same advantage (although the Buccaneers will be prepared for the injury this week).

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley will have to exploit the Buccaneers secondary as Cowboys receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb did. Cooper and Lamb each more than 100 receiving yards, and combined for three touchdowns.

The Falcons need a lot more from their other receivers as well. Amazingly, Ridley was the only Falcons wideout with a catch in Week 1. Ryan only targeted a receiver other than Ridley twice -- both of those targets were to Russell Gage and were incomplete.

Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts must be more involved, too. He finished tied with Ridley for targets with eight, but he caught just four for 31 yards. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has to find a way to get the ball into Pitts' hands early and often against Tampa Bay.

It's probably not the best idea to ask Ryan to throw 58 times like Dak Prescott did in Week 1, but the fact remains that Ryan must be the Ryan of old. He has to distribute the ball quickly and accurately for the Falcons to have any chance to avoid 0-2.

Ryan has to be Atlanta's best player.

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